The burden that strokes have on patients and society is tremendous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 795,000 people a year suffer a stroke in the United States, and stroke is a leading cause of death and long-term disability. However, an estimated half million individuals are surviving a stroke each year and learning how to live with the disabilities that stroke can cause.
Disabilities are not just limited to potential cognitive and physical limitations, but include communication barriers and role changes. These disabilities can affect a person’s ability to complete everyday activities, such as dressing, driving, eating, and other daily activities, have an adverse effect on his or her ability to return to a functioning social role, and can lead to depression and a decrease in overall quality of life. Stroke support groups are designed to address these issues and provide a pathway for regaining social function after stroke. (See About support groups.)
The number of stroke support groups has grown over the last several decades, and the American Stroke Association estimates there are about 1,800 established stroke support groups in the United States. Nurses or other healthcare providers typically facilitate the group and serve as a resource by answering participants’ questions.
Role of stroke support groups
Social support networks can influence the ability of stroke survivors to return to their community in a functioning social role, and groups can provide that support. Having a cognitive or physical deficit can be challenging and even isolating, making it more important than ever to maintain social connections to stay healthy and avoid depression. Roles that stroke survivors once held may be no longer available as a result of physical disabilities, which can leave them feeling unsure of their place in society.
Stroke support groups can help their members work through some of these issues by exploring identity concepts. Social identity concepts promote the renegotiation of one’s identity in a social context as survivors learn to deal with their disabilities.
Stroke support groups also provide a safe environment where members can engage in problem solving and receive feedback from others who have experience and knowledge in dealing with similar issues. Members can learn from others about resources that exist within their community, including stroke research studies in the area and how to navigate the healthcare system. The support group also creates a networking and support system for caregivers of stroke survivors to discuss issues with which they are dealing.
In 2015, White and Schweickert found that participants who attended stroke support groups had significantly better resocialization, as measured by the social outcomes subscale of the Subjective Index of Physical and Social Outcomes scale, than those who did not attend. The results suggest that stroke support groups can positively impact social functioning and reintegration into the community after a stroke. If attendance at a stroke support group can positively impact resocialization outcomes, it ultimately has the potential to have a cascading effect on quality of life as well.
Integrating support groups into care
Nurses should include stroke support groups as a resource when planning care of patients who have experienced a stroke. Having this support network will help stroke survivors return to the community in a functioning social role. Stroke survivors can find support groups near them by searching the stroke support group registry online at www.strokeassociation.org. Survivors who don’t have access to a local group or find attendance difficult can join a virtual group.
American Stroke Association. Successful stroke support groups. 2013.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke facts. 2012.
White T, Schweickert P. Assessing effects of stroke support groups on social integration in acute stroke patients. Stroke. 2015;46:ANS14.
Teresa S. White is a clinical nurse educator at SwedishAmerican Hospital in Rockford, Illinois.